Sunday, 19 May 2013

Paris - The City of Love and Lights

The city of Paris has more familiar landmarks than any other city in the world. On your first visit you will arrive in the French capital with all sorts of expectations: cobblestone streets lined with sidewalk cafes, of intellectuals discussing weighty matters in these cafes, of romance along the Seine, naughty nightclub revues in a district called Montmarte and yes, if we are being honest with ourselves, we just might expect rude people who won’t speak English.

The truth is, if you look hard enough, you will find all of those. With an open mind you will actually discover is that Paris is enchanting, at any time of the year. It welcomes guests with open arms. I have been there six times, seen every season, met a lot of people, some which have become friends… and I came home thoroughly satisfied from each visit to the city of love and lights.

Getting to Paris: By air: Paris is served by three airports—Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Orly International Airport, and a regional airport, Beauvais. Chances are that you will be landing at Charles de Gaulle and you will need to take a €40 to €60 Euro taxi ride to your Parisian hotel.
By train: Paris is well connected to the rest of Europe by train offering high speed and normal trains such as the TER Regional trains, TGV (high-speed trains), Thalys, Intercity trains, and the Eurostar service. Getting off the train at Gade du Nord is the only experience I have taking trains. But a quick subway ride will take you right into the heart of the city.
By bus: The Eurolines company offers routes to other European cities.

Getting around Paris:Bus: The city has several hop-on hop-off bus tours specially run for tourists
By car: with dense traffic conditions, it is not a great idea to rent a car but driving may be an option if you are planning trips outside the city. Imaging this… you are driving up Av. Des Champs Elysees because you want to go to the Hugo Boss store, you miss your turn and immediately find yourself on an 8 lane roundabout that is circling the Arc de Triomphe and people are flying on and off at break neck speeds… and you get paralyzed with fear.
On foot: Walking in Paris is the best way to get around and explore the city. It is possible to cross the entire city in a span of just a few hours. For photographers it really is the only way to see the sites. Walk, admire, drink some wine, walk, admire, drink some wine, repeat…
Metro: Paris has an excellent subway train system with detailed maps of the surrounding area at each station. This would be my suggestion for travel around Paris. Look into a pass and use the Metro to get you around the city.
By boat: you can cruise along the Seine taking a circular route from the Eiffel Tower, down past the Louvre, Notre Dame, botanical gardens then back up the other bank past Musee D’Orsay.
Bicycle: You can rent a bike to explore the city. It can be much safer to cycle here than anywhere else. The government is actually planning to encourage the practice.

Where to stay in ParisThere are a few things you should consider before deciding where to stay in Paris. First, find out what area is right for you according to your visiting goals and personal tastes. Then choose accommodation based on your budget. I have stayed in hotels that are as much as €400 a night and I have stayed in flats for €100 a night. Honestly, I had a great time no matter where I stayed. Whether it was in bohemian district of Montmarte or right down on the Siene River near the La Louvre I enjoyed each visit.

The historical center of Paris is divided into 20 districts. I have put a map below for you to see what I am talking about. As you notice the city is split in the middle by the Seine River. Each of these districts is like a little village within the city with its own history, culture and way of life.

No matter where you stay in Paris, be prepared, you will walk a lot. You won’t realize it at first, but just the sheer amount of walking when inside the venues you will want to visit will be a lot. La Louvre alone can be quite a physical experience if you want to see it all (plan that over two days if you have time). Le Sacre Coeur is a 300+ stair climb to get to the top and the Notre Dame Cathedral is also a vertical hike to get up and swing from the bell like Quasi Motto did. So before you pack, think comfort or you will pay for it later.

There is accommodation for everyone in Paris, it goes from the bed & breakfast room if you want to get in touch with the locals, the cheap 2 star hotel that will be kind on your wallet, the holiday apartment for a feel at home experience or the glamorous luxury hotel if you want to treat yourself.

The Weather in ParisThe best weather in Paris is in spring (April-June) or fall (September-November), when things are easier to come by. The weather is temperate year-round. July and August are the worst for crowds. Parisians desert their city, leaving it to the tourists. Here are some quick facts:
The months June, July, August and September have a nice average temperature.
On average, the warmest month is July.
On average, the coolest month is December.
May is the wettest month.
February is the driest month.

I have been there in every season and found, as a photographer, there is no bad time to go. However, my favorite visits have been in September and March. You will get pleasing fall and spring weather and miss the majority of tourists. Regardless of what the weather is, if you are prepared, you will not have a bad day when you are in Paris.

OK, now that we have looked at the necessary details about the city, let’s get to the good stuff! Capturing a few of my favorite parts of the city in photos!

I have to say this, “Be prepared to wait your turn if you are doing the day time stroll with the camera around your neck.”

There are more photographers per square mile in this city during peak tourist times than I have seen anywhere else in the world. I have seen this happen all the time… a bus of tourists pulling up to the glass pyramid at Le Louvre, 100 people fall out of the bus and descend on the landmark like bees to a honey pot. It’s rather humorous.

My advice for the more seasoned photographer… go off hours. Apply the same photography principles here as you would at home. Shoot landmarks from 30 minutes before sunrise to ninety minutes after sunrise. Or, go at night and shoot ninety minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after sunset. Night photography is also amazing in this city. Some of my favorite photos have been taken at night when I have been to Paris.

The Eiffel Tower If you are taking photos to sell you should investigate the legalities of selling images or any French landmark, especially of the Eiffel tower at night. There has been much discussion surrounding this topic I would look into this before you attempt to sell anything. If it’s just for personal enjoyment and posting it on your website or sharing with your friends, you are fine.

You couldn't possibly visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. Even if you do not want to visit this world famous structure, you will see it from all over Paris. The tower rises 300 meters tall (984 ft); when it was completed at the end of the 19th century it was twice as high as the Washington Monument.

The cost to go to the top is approx €15, but its well worth the price to get some fantastic views of the city. Take up your wide angle lens for some breathtaking images and take a telephoto lens to get some different viewpoints of some of the local churches and structures.

The Catacombs The Paris Catacombs are a maze of tunnels and crypts underneath the city streets where Parisians placed the bones of their dead for almost 30 years. Prior to the creation of the Catacombs in the mid-1700s, residents buried their dead in cemeteries near churches as is still customary in most places.

But as the city grew, the cemeteries quickly ran out of space. Additionally, improper burial techniques often led to ground water and land near cemeteries becoming contaminated and spreading disease to those living nearby, so city officials moved to condemn all the cemeteries within city limits and move the bodies in those cemeteries elsewhere.

The decision was made to use an underground section of quarries in Paris, and the bones from Paris’ city cemeteries were moved underground between 1786 and 1788. The process was conducted with reverence and discretion – the quarry space was blessed before any bones were moved there, bones were always moved in a quiet parade of carts accompanied by priests, and these movements always took place at night. The quarries continued to be used as the collection point for the bones from Paris’ cemeteries through 1814 and now contain the bodies of roughly 6-7 million Parisians.

To get there by METRO the nearest stop which is Denfert Rochereau (either on line 4 or 6) in zone 1. Be aware before you enter that there is no flash photography allowed in the site, so to get any decent photos you either need to be able to hold a camera in dim light and shoot in a high ISO setting, or use a tripod and long exposure times, which is exactly what I did.

The staff is really helpful in shining torches at the skulls for you so that you could see in better detail but really, as much as they are just trying to help, this is more a hindrance and annoyance when you’re taking photos. I’d recommend a tripod and your own flashlight as that seemed acceptable to the staff, it also seems acceptable to be able to touch the remains as some people even pick up the bones and photograph themselves holding the remains (not my cup of tea personally).

The cost to get in is approximately €8, but well worth the price.

Le Louvre and Musee d’Orsay Le Louvre is housed in the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under Philip II. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of antique sculpture.

In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum, to display the nation's masterpieces.

Imagine… almost 35,000 pieces of art in one location; historically significant paintings, sculptures that stood proud thousands of years ago, and priceless artifacts you have only read about in a book. Many are right there for you to see, and photograph! YES, you too can walk home with a photo of “Whistler’s Mother” or “Mona Lisa” for €10 to €15.

A word of caution, keep the flash in the bag and do not bring out the tripod… They have signs that tell you that your flash will degrade the art… so not wanting to be the person that ruins a $1Million artifact, I always choose to handhold with high ISO.

I suggest you walk the museum with the camera set on 400 ISO or higher, f/2.8 and brace my camera on a folded coat to help eliminate handshake. Regardless how you do it, you will walk away with a lot of fantastic images for your own personal enjoyment.

Click here to see an interactive floor plan of Le Louvre. This will walk you through where art is located and give you a better idea of the sheer size of the building.

Musee d’Orsay The history of the museum is quite unusual. In the centre of Paris on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. So the building itself could be seen as the first "work of art" in the Musee d'Orsay, which displays collections of art from the period 1848 to 1914. For €8 you can spend as much time as you want admiring timeless pieces of art.

For those of you that appreciate the history of photography. There is a photography exhibit that shows photos as far back as the early 1800’s

The museum is not as large as Le Louvre but I found it just as inspiring as Le Louvre. The same rules apply for photographers, keep the flash in the bag and do not bring out the tripod… you are forced to handhold with high ISO. I have however seen a few people with monopods sneaking in a few photos here and there.

The rest of ParisThere is so much more to see and photograph. I could write and show photos for hours. These are just a few of my favorite locations. What I suggest, look at photos on flickr and go to the Parisian city website. There is an abundance of available information for anyone wishing to visit the city.

From fantastic graveyards, one in particular with the grave of Jim Morrison, the Sacre Ceour, Arc de Triomphe, the Oblisque, Notre Dame, and many, many more places. Your photographic opportunities are endless. Do some research, talk to people that have been there, and just go and enjoy yourself.

If you have any questions about Paris, please feel free to contact me through I have visited the city 6 times in the last ten years… and someday soon, will be back again walking the streets of Paris with my camera draped over my shoulder.

Join me on my next Parisian Workshops

Week One with Deborah Sandidge

Happy Shooting,